Back on Track after an Extended School Break (Or – How I Survived 9+ Snow Days in Boston in 2015)

How do you get back on track after 9+ snow days? Read on to find out how to deal with school interruptions!

Two of my students making the best out of a snow day

As some of you may have heard, we have had a positively absurd amount of snow here in the Boston area. At last count, I believe we had close to 6 feet of snow in about 2 weeks (and, as I write this, another blizzard is brewing that may bring another foot of the lovely white stuff towards the end of the week). I have never seen anything like it, and the 9 snow days we’ve had so far have put a real dent in my plan book. Next week is February vacation, and that means another week away from my students. My sophomores take our high stakes state test beginning March 2nd – which leaves a mere 9 days of classroom time (barring any more snow days in that period). My students and I are going to have to go HARD if we are to do everything we need to before the testing dates and before the end of the school year. So here is my advice for getting back into the swing after an extended break. It works for blizzards, vacation weeks, and just about any school interruption.

1. Create a timeline and share it with your students. Many teachers already do this in their classes, but l find it works particularly well in the countdown before testing. Clearly list all the work that needs to be accomplished in the specific time period, so students will understand exactly what needs to be done.

2. Create a team spirit. Some of you may also know that the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl this year. Much of the Patriot’s success can be attributed to their strong sense of team spirit, their ability to work together for a common goal, and their determination to succeed. I’m transferring that work ethic to my classes. I may even borrow a few inspirational words from Tom and Bill.

3. Celebrate along the way. If we are going to go as hard as I intend, I will need to plan a few celebrations along the way. Carrie Rodman, a student in the grad school class that I teach at Emmanuel College, gave me a great idea. She puts underscores on her board, hangman style, which spell out a word. Pizza, for example, is represented as _ _ _ _ _. Every time students complete a large task – writing an essay or acing a particularly difficult test – the students get a letter. When the word is spelled out, the students get a pizza party! And my students will do just about anything for a pizza party.

4. Mix it up and make it fun. For me, there’s going to be a great deal we need to focus on in a short period of time: writing essays, annotating passages, working on vocabulary. I’m planning on mixing it up in my classroom, so students don’t get bored, and I can keep their interest. This might mean doing a close reading on poetry for the first 20 minutes of our 80-minute block, and then working on finding the main idea in passages after that. But lessons will be varied and designed to maximize time effectively.

5. Work to Give Specific and Immediate Feedback.  Of course, we should always try to do this, but it’s not always feasible. It’s going to be tough to correct 28 essays overnight, providing each students with action items to improve their writing, but after 9+ snow days, I’m ready to make it happen. The more feedback a student has, the more improvement will take place.

So hang in there, New Englanders and others affected by school interruptions! Summer – what’s left of it – is just around the corner.

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  • Erin Giesser

    Thank you for these tips!

    Once again, Nancy, you've provided very practical strategies that can be used right away! Thank you for your insight.  It's great to create a "we are in this together" relationship; I'll be using these energizers tomorrow!

  • NancyBarile

    Thank you, Erin!

    Thanks, Erin! Couldn’t have done it without you! Let’s hope we can put these strategies into use tomorrow!!

  • Sally Ryan

    Snow Days

    I believe that your key is having the students know that they are partners with you and that you all have a common goal for success. (Love the Hangman Puzzle idea.)  With your permission, I will be sharing your blog post with my teacher candidates.

    You folks in New England are where we were last year here in Adams County (Gettysburg) PA and some areas of Maryland. Lost track of the number of storms and had a time getting teaching time and observations in for my Mount St. Mary's University teacher candidates. (Hard to intern in a school that is closed for the weather!) Good luck…keeping you all in my thoughts and prayers. 

  • TriciaEbner

    I can vouch for this!

    We didn’t have six feet of snow on the ground last year, but we did have nine snow days, and it was something else! My district utilized “blizzard bags” as a tool for three of those days. By making use of my “eClassroom” site, my students were able to do some work and even collaborate on group projects, all while holed up at home in -15 temperatures (with windchills we just won’t talk about . . .)  While they didn’t fall in love with blizzard bags, they did appreciate the timelines and targets for keeping on track with the work we needed to do. 

    Nancy, I hope that forecast blizzard turns into a good ol’ “dud” of a storm–a few flurries here and there. I think you’ve had more than your share . . . 

  • NancyBarile

    Digital Days

    We have a 1-1 iPad program at my high school, and I felt that we didn’t utilize our chance to create “digital snow days” as much as we could have. I kept in touch with my students through “Schoology,” which was a huge help, but was surprised at how many students didn’t do the work I posted, and I could not hold them accountable. I think an emergency plan needs to be set in place, and I’m hoping that after THIS winter, our administrators will look into it!